Rhagor - Opening our national collections

Welsh bard falls in the battle fields of Flanders

Hedd Wyn

[image: The memorial to Hedd Wyn at Trawsfynydd.]

The memorial to Hedd Wyn at Trawsfynydd.

Six weeks after his death in the Great War in 1917, the poet Hedd Wyn was awarded the chair at the National Eisteddfod at Birkenhead.

Over a quarter of a million Welshmen enlisted to fight in the First World War. Among them was the poet Ellis Humphrey Evans of Trawsfynydd, better known under his bardic name of Hedd Wyn. He was dispatched for active service in 1917. Just a few months later he was dead - killed in battle on the fields of Flanders.

The Black Chair

[image: The Birkenhead National Eisteddfod Black Chair of 1917]

The Birkenhead National Eisteddfod Black Chair of 1917, in the parlour at Yr Ysgwrn, Hedd Wyn's family home (with the kind permission of Mr Gerald Williams).

Six weeks later he was posthumously awarded the chair at the National Eisteddfod at Birkenhead for his poem Yr Arwr (The Hero) which he had completed shortly before his death. The chair itself was draped in black during the chairing ceremony, and has since been known as the Y Gadair Ddu (The Black Chair). By the age of 28 he had won four Eisteddfod chairs for his poetry.

Witness account

[image: Yr Ysgwrn, Hedd Wyn's family home.]

Yr Ysgwrn, Hedd Wyn's family home.

Mr Simon Jones of Aberangell, Mid Wales, served in the same regiment as Hedd Wyn, and witnessed his falling on the field of battle. Here is his account, as recorded by the National History Museum: St. Fagans in 1975:

"It was the last day of July, you see. The first day of probably the biggest battle that ever took place. The battle of Passchendaele. And we were going over the top at half past four. We started over Canal Bank at Ypres, and he was killed half way across Pilckem (Ridge). I've heard many say that they were with Hedd Wyn and this and that, well I was with him as a boy from Llanuwchllyn and him from Trawsfynydd. I saw him fall and I can say that it was a nosecap shell in his stomach that killed him. You could tell that. You couldn't stay with him - you had to keep going, you see.

When did you see him last, to speak to him?

Oh, it's difficult to say. Perhaps I spoke to him that morning, because if I saw him get killed, I must have been near to him. I remember well that we had an officer leading us called Newman, Lieutenant Newman. He was going in front of me, and I saw him fall on his knees and grab two fistfuls of dirt. Well there was nothing but dirt there, you see - the place was all churned up. He was dying, of course.

What did you do? Could you do something when you saw Hedd Wyn... ?

Nothing at all. No. There were stretcher bearers coming up behind us, you see. There was nothing - well, you'd be breaking the rules if you went to help someone who was injured when you were in an attack. Your business was to keep going.

How did you feel when you saw your friend fall?

Well I'll tell you straight. To be honest, you had no time to sympathise because you didn't know whether you'd be in the same situation as him in a couple of yards."

Enduring legacy

[image: The first page of Hedd Wyn's winning poem in his own handwriting.]

The first page of Hedd Wyn's poem 'Yr Arwr' (The Hero) in his own handwriting.

Hedd Wyn was one of 32,000 soldiers to be killed in the attack on Pilckem Ridge. The devastated village of Passchendaele itself was not captured until 6 November, 98 days after the start of the battle. This slow advance over little more than five miles of ground was achieved with the loss of 310,000 Allied and 260,000 German lives.

The family home

Gadair_Ddu.flv
Gerald Williams, nephew of Hedd Wyn interviewed in the family home, Yr Ysgwrn

The Black Chair remains a potent symbol of the devastating impact of the First World War on communities throughout Wales, and the unfulfilled potential of a whole generation of young Welsh men.

Article Date: 25 April 2007

2 comments

quickcashloans on 29 June 2009, 10:58

I found this very informative. The article is professionally written and I feel like the author knows the subject very well.

Iolo ap Gwynn on 3 November 2008, 12:14

It would be worth linking to this website:
http://www.llysednowain.co.uk/index.htm
It is a place people could visit in the context of this story. Also the position of the tab on the map is a bit too far north.

Leave a comment


Glossary

Eisteddfod
A Welsh festival of literature, music, and song.

Rate this article

Content:     

Images:     

Style and readability: